WATCHER OF THE SKIES
First story of the month! (the sites timezone is apparently several hours ahead of me. It’s only 9:50 pm my time)
She was a shy, timid woman with large doe eyes that my father always seemed to see dollar signs in. There was nothing special about her, nothing that I hadn’t seen a thousand times over. The casual swish of the hair as she walked, the slow blink as she took in the tiered candles that cast gloomy shadows over the gaudy purple drapes. Even the widened gaze as she saw me, sitting behind the clear orb, as though it was something magical and not the mere prop I had made with my own hands.
“The young mistress wishes to know of her future?” My voice came out in a well-rehearsed rasp. My father always smiled, that condescending grin that told me he knew better, ‘Tourists want the feel of authenticity. Give it to them, Nina.’ “I am Nadya, come, sit.”
Like the good woman she was, she shuffled to the low table, sitting awkwardly on the pillow that had been so carefully placed. My eyes caught on the gleam of silver beneath her cloak. Promising. Silver meant money. Perhaps the stranger was richer than she appeared. Doe eyes turned to me but she still made no move to speak.
I smiled, raising a single hand and waving it in a gentle swaying motion over the glass ball. A light glimmered at its center and my mouth quirked in a smirk, as my other hand, hidden beneath the folds of the table cloth tapped gently on the worn button that was carved in the woodwork.
The theatrics had the desired effect. Her look of shock and awe brought the sharp pang of disgust. A little light within a block of glass and suddenly the pathetic child would hang on my every word. Were all people so easily fooled as she and the thousands I had fooled before? My hand tightened into a fist, kohl blackened eyelids lowering as my eyes jerked uncontrollably beneath them.
A whispered murmur came from her parted lips, fear widening her soft eyes. “What’s happening? What do you see?”
My lips formed the familiar chant, a mixture of languages that I both knew by heart and yet cared nothing for. Jerking my arms up, I could hear the gasp. Timed in sequence, I knew my cues, the gentle clicking of the grandfather clock to my left. The slight change in tone as the light glowed still brighter, in time with the fervent words of my chanting. I could feel the smoke thicken in the room, stale and unwelcome, stifling as my hot breath flew rapidly from between my painted lips.
“What is it?” Her voice was panicked, cutting into my mindless chatter.
I stopped, eyes closed tightly, feeling her tension and expectation as if I could reach out and touch it. My hands dropped limply to my side and my eyes fluttered open, relishing the knowledge of the picture I had so meticulously crafted. With the natural ink-stain black of my hair, its gentle waves tumbling to my low back, I knew I appeared the perfect gypsy straight from the cliches. I’d heard the obsidian black of eyes referred to as soulless, as if the seeker was staring into the heart of the endless abyss.
“You come from a faraway place, and yet…” I paused, considering her with a faraway look in my eye, though no detail on her person went unnoticed. The patched and muddy boots that told of endless days of walking, the lines of darkened skin that surrounded her eyes, telling of the miserable heat in the face of the sun. Only nights could stave off such horrors and yet the scars that marked her body said that the nightmares had only just begun when darkness fell. “you are at home here, as though you’ve found something you have been searching long and hard for.” For why else would she walk with such purpose, an unhurried gait that spoke of her ease. Yes, she’d found what she sought.
“The journey has truly just begun and the path before you will be long and at times you will think of giving up. You will succeed at your task, though something dark lurks in your footsteps,” Oh, the details were not so much important, not as much as the vague words that I could pull from the memorized lists. Countless hours of being drilled and I could still feel the sting of his open hand landing on my soft cheek. Not so soft anymore, but I covered that up with an ample amount of face paint. Nothing to destroy the facade. “something that will stay with you for years to come.”
“And of love?” So childish, so innocent and naive. The young girls were all the same, fawning at the feet of men who brandished their strength as weapons to bend the will of others. Disgusting and pathetic creatures who preyed on weakness. Yet who was I to talk, for I was the very monster I detested.
“Indeed, though the love will be filled with pain,” I paused, letting my finger trail daintily over the crystal surface of my prop. “as the beauty of a rose is marred by the thorns with which it grows.” Yes, love and pain. The two never seemed to be separate, so close as to make the other seem desirable. I had no need of it.
I lowered my eyelids and gave her one last glance, preparing the words of my closing speech. “Your life will be a hard one, but filled with rich reward. I have something that may aid you.” The price for the session alone would cover the handmade trinket I presented to her on the flat of my palm. It hung on a corded leather chain, a black raven with ruby red eyes that gleamed wickedly in the light. “The watcher of the skies, told to bring luck and good fortune to the life of such a person as you.”
She clasped it lightly in her sun darkened hand. “How much for this object? I can’t repay such kindness…”
Letting go of the cord, I smiled at her as if she were a long ago friend. “A gift. Though I ask that if you should ever meet someone who you feel needs help more than you, give it freely as I have done.”
“To aid me in achieving my goal, the prize that I have sought for so long.” She whispered the words reverently.
“Yes, to win the love and endure the pain and ultimately, to acquire that which you desire.”
“You’re right.” Finally she smiled, a dangerous smile that hardened her gentle eyes. “The love that I seek and everything else will be mine, because you are what I have been seeking.”
I stared at her, uncertain. Perhaps the merciless days had induced her with the much feared sun fever.
“I am the darkness that follows. But not in my footsteps, in yours.”
Standing abruptly, I raised a trembling hand and motioned to the door. “The session is over, my father will collect what is due.”
“Your father will get what is due him. But first, the devil child that is his legacy.” With a swift motion, she jerked the fold of her cloak from her body. A flash of silver was all the warning I received before I stared blankly at the knife embedded in my flesh.
The pain cut through my body, sending me to the ground where it radiated through my limbs, leaving me writhing in panic. Fear flooded through me and yet my eyes retained a clarity as they stared to the side, focused on all I could see, the darkened mud on her boots. She crouched beside me with a feral grin. “Die, thorn in my flesh and memory of your father’s wickedness.”
A metallic sound rang in my ears painfully as she leaned over, setting something just out of my view. “Maybe then I shall forget and find real love, without your pesky thorns. Safe journey, dear heart.”
Gritting my teeth, I jerked my head back and uttered a cry as my eyes met the hard, crimson-red eyes of the raven. A tear ran from my eyes as my vision began to blacken, with her parting words lingering in the smokey air.
“The watcher help you, Daughter.”